Neuromechanics of Prey Capture

Sensing, tracking, and then attacking other animals to consume is one of the most highly evolved and complex behaviors animals perform. We study the mechanical and neural principles underlying this behavior in two model systems: the larval zebrafish, Danio rerio, and the black ghost electric knifefish, Apteronotus albifrons. Larval zebrafish are a leading vertebrate genetic model system. While only 4 mm long, their brains contain all the key vertebrate brain modules packaged within a completely transparent body. This enables visualization of the function of the nervous system at level beyond what is possible in any other vertebrate. In collaboration with Prof. David McLean at Northwestern, we are analyzing prey capture behavior and key midbrain circuits to understand how brains process complex stimuli in the generation of motor programs. Black ghost knifefish are an ideal system for detailed analysis of how the brain performs signal processing on sensory signals, and provide an exquisite system for the analysis of the mechanics of agility.

The video below is of a 4 millimeter long larval zebrafish hunting a 0.1 millimeter long Paramecium. Shot at 250 frames per second, movie exported at 30 FPS. Total actual time: just under one second.

The same prey capture event after automated tracking combined with some postprocessing to extract curvature (heat map), and body velocity (blue line) and body angle (green line).



Intersection of motor volumes predicts the outcome of predator-prey interactions
Kiran D. Bhattacharyya, David L. McLean, Malcolm A. MacIver
bioRxiv, 2019 (Preprint)

Visual threat assessment and reticulospinal encoding of calibrated responses in larval zebrafish
Kiran D. Bhattacharyya, David L. McLean, Malcolm A. MacIver
Current Biology, 2017 (Article)

Visually guided gradation of prey capture movements in larval zebrafish
Bradely W. Patterson, Aliza O. Abraham, Malcolm A. MacIver, David L. McLean
Journal of Experimental Biology, 2013 (Article)

Optimal movement in the prey strikes of weakly electric fish: a case study of the interplay of body plan and movement capability
Claire M. Postlethwaite, Tiffany M. Psemeneki, Jangir Selimkhanov, Mary Silber, Malcolm A. MacIver
Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 2009 (Article)

Neuroethology: From Morphological Computation to Planning Malcolm A. MacIver
The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition (2009), Robbins P. & Aydede M. (eds). Cambridge University Press: Capter 26, 48-504

Omnidirectional sensory and motor volumes in electric fish
James B. Snyder, Mark E. Nelson, Joel W. Burdick, Malcolm A. MacIver
PLoS Biology, 2007 (Article)

Modeling electrosensory and mechanosensory images during the predatory behavior of weakly electric fish
Mark E. Nelson, Malcolm A MacIver, Sheryl Coombs
Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 2002 (Article)

Prey-capture behavior in gymnotid electric fish: motion analysis and effects of water conductivity
Malcolm A. Maciver, Noura M. Sharabash, Mark E. Nelson
Journal of Experimental Biology, 2001 (Article)

Prey capture in the weakly electric fish Apteronotus albifrons: sensory acquisition strategies and electrosensory consequences
Mark E. Nelson, Malcolm A. MacIver
Journal of Experimental Biology, 1999 (Article)